Last Updated: 03/17/15

Ophthalmology Career Guide


Ophthalmologists are specially trained to provided comprehensive vision and eye care as well as diagnose and treat a wide range of visual and ocular disorders. They see patients of all ages from infants to the elderly. Some of the conditions they might treat include nearsightedness, pink eye, cataracts, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration. They can also diagnosis other disorders that have symptoms that manifest in the eyes, visual pathways or other visual structures. Some of these disorders include diabetes, multiple sclerosis, brain tumors, hypertension and various infectious diseases. Ophthalmologists use a variety of diagnostic tools, medications and even surgical operations to treat and manage a wide range of conditions and visual problems. While ophthalmologists can do visual checkups and prescribe contact lenses and eyeglasses, many people see an optometrist instead if they don’t have any serious eye problems. Many patients are referred to ophthalmologists by their primary care physicians or optometrists.

While some ophthalmologists work in hospitals, medical universities and clinics, most tend to work in private practice groups that they either own individually or with a group of other specialists or ophthalmologists. As an ophthalmologist, you will probably work regularly scheduled hours and see patients in your office on certain days and then do operations on other days. Unless you work in a hospital, emergency situations are generally quite rare so you won’t have to be on call much. This is definitely one of the slower paced specialties in medicine and perhaps this is why ophthalmologist tend to be happier than other types of physicians. In a 2012 physician lifestyle survey published by Medscape, ophthalmologists rated their happiness with a score of 4.03, on a scale from 1 to 5 with 5 being the happiest. Out of all the specialties polled, they were the fourth happiest. The same survey found that about 80% of ophthalmologists reported participating in some form of volunteerism.

Training Requirements:

In order to become an ophthalmologist you must first complete a four year medical school program. Once you receive an M.D. or D.O. you will have to complete a residency program that generally takes about three years to five years to complete. Before you can practice as an ophthalmologist, you will also need to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). You might also choose to become board certified by taking the board exam administered by the American Board of Ophthalmology. This is not required to practice, but it can increase your salary and desirability when trying to find a job.

Ophthalmology Salary:

According to Salary.com, the median annual salary for ophthalmologists is approximately $254,006. A 2012 Medscape physician compensation survey found that ophthalmologist are among the top 10 highest paid specialists. The same survey found that almost 11% of the ophthalmologists that responded to the survey earned $500,000 or more. If you choose to become a professor of ophthalmology, you can expect to make between $220,000 and $268,000. What you make can depend on what type of facility you work in and what part of the country you work in. Those who work in private practices or own their own practice tend to earn more.

Career Outlook:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment outlook for physicians and surgeons is very good, and this is the same for ophthalmologists. Data compiled by the BLS shows a projected increase in employment for physicians and surgeons of 14% from 2006-2016. As the baby-boomer population is reaching retirement there will be a great increase in the demand for vision care specialists, like ophthalmologists. Job opportunities tend to be more abundant in the low-income and rural parts of the country, as the medical groups and hospitals there have a harder time attracting physicians.